21 September 1956 – Grumman company test pilot Tom Attridge shoots himself down in a Grumman F-11F Tiger, BuNo 138260, during a Mach 1.0 20 degree dive from 22,000 feet. Tom fires two bursts from the fighter’s 20mm cannon during the descent, and as he reaches 7,000 feet (2,100 m) the jet is struck multiple
“I had a midair collision flying fighters. I was in a thunderstorm, so I guess that was my first introduction to the idea that ‘thunderstorms are bad; stay away from them.’ I had to fly one of two airplanes out of Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, and at that time the F-100 had no onboard radar. The number 2 and I were being vectored by our radar, and they vectored us right into a thunderstorm. I lost lead because hail had started breaking things off the airplane.
When I heard the noise, I looked away for a split second to see how the engine was doing. The compressor had stalled with due to hail coming in the intake and when I looked back, we (the number 2 and I) weren’t together, and then — maybe 30 seconds later – we hit each other. It knocked the tail off his airplane and knocked part of the wing off the left side of mine — fortunately, we got both airplanes back to base. That was my first introduction to thunderstorms, and at that point, my attitude was “If there’s one in the county, be in the next state.”
Little did I know what the future held for me and stormy weather. I grew up on a farm so I knew machinery and I knew farm work, and I knew I wanted to do something that wasn’t that hard. Every airplane that flew over made me think, ‘Now, that guy’s not working as hard as I am down here.’ I started flying in my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska, joined the Air Force ROTC, and by the time I had graduated I had a commercial pilot rating.
Once I joined the Air Force it quickly got my attention that they flew a little more precisely that I had as a commercial civilian pilot, and I adjusted and spent 24 years in the Air Force as a fighter pilot. After Air Force pilot training, I went to F-100s and I flew them for a long, long time — three tours in Vietnam — then I got some time in the F-4. I was wing commander in Korea, then I retired from the Air Force to go back to flying. My wife was still in the Air Force — she’s an Air Force nurse, retired now. I followed her around for a while, so I flew in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi before she retired.
I flew mostly corporate and some flight training, just a little bit of everything, and then she got assigned to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City. She liked it here, so she retired here and she let me stay with her. After I retired from the Air Force I began flying as a research scientist for the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, flying the T-28 which I’d flown in the Air Force.
I flew thunderstorm penetration flights even though I had spent my life avoiding thunderstorms while flying. That one scrape at Cannon AFB confirmed that they were trouble. The first time I put the pointy end of the airplane toward a thunderstorm and went in, I thought, ‘This is not totally comfortable.’ But the airplane had been doing it — at that time for 16 years — and it never failed to get out on the other side, so all I had to do was fly it. The equipment is built and modified to be able to take it, so all I had to do was fly through it. After the first couple flights, my confidence built and I realized both the plane and I could handle the job.”
Source: Some quotes from an article in AVWeb by Joe Godfrey, April 16, 2003